Expand your influence by talking to visitors
Sent Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Welcome to the Green Guide, the monthly newsletter published by
Greener Museums. We’ve been very busy at Greener Museums. I just
returned from running a three day workshop in Manchester, helping
museum professionals to become sustainability leaders and champions
at their organisations. This was so rewarding and I look forward to
working with this group of 25 museum professionals over the course
of 2010. In addition, I just wrapped up a project I’ve been working
on for the past year with Tate Modern and the Royal Society here in
the UK, culminating in a one-day seminar entitled Rising to the
Climate Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World.
All in all it’s been a very rewarding month, and it’s got me
thinking about how I can help museums out there do more of the “big
We know that we need to do more than just change the light bulbs in
order to have a chance in the fight against climate change
(although it’s a great start!). In this issue, we’ll look at some
ways to expand your influence on sustainability, in particular, how
to communicate to and influence your visitors.
To your greener future,
Rachel Madan, Director of Greener Museums
Here’s what’s in this issue:
*Feature Article: Expand Your Influence by Talking to Visitors
*About Rachel Madan
Director of Greener Museums
Feature Article: Expand Your Influence by Talking to Visitors
More and more museums are getting on board and taking steps to make
their operations more sustainable. This is fantastic news. But a
lot of museums, especially smaller ones, feel that there isn’t much
they can do on their own, and that a lot of their impact actually
comes from visitor impacts. This is why it’s so important to get
our visitors behind us and engage them in what we are doing on
sustainability. This sounds easy, but messages about sustainability
and in particular climate change are often greeted with scepticism,
and can turn off our visitors. So how can we avoid the pitfalls of
communicating sustainability to our visitors?
‘Selling the sizzle and not the sausage’
A recent report (www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/Sellthesizzle.pdf)
from Futerra, a sustainable communications agency, focuses on some
aspects of climate change messaging. Most communications on
sustainability to date have been trying to sell the “sausage” –
that we are going to have a horrible life in the future, a climate
hell as it were. But what we should be doing is selling a vision of
a better future (“the sizzle”).
When explaining to visitors why certain changes are happening (for
instance, that you’ve started reducing your energy use), start with
a positive vision of what this means for your local community. In
this example, it might mean that the money you’ve saved on energy
costs can be invested in collections, more programs, or extended
opening hours. The next step is to show the negative impact of what
could happen if you don’t take this action. So for example, if our
energy costs become too high and we can’t pay the bills, we might
have to close one day a week, meaning you can’t enjoy the museum or
gallery. Next, show visitors your plan–a short list of big actions
along an understandable timescale of no more than five years.
Finally, give your visitors actions that they can do right now.
Perhaps you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint–you can
encourage your visitors to travel to the museum in a low carbon
way. If you are reducing energy bills by not heating or cooling to
the same comfort standard, you will want to explain to visitors why
that is, and how they might want to bring a hat into the gallery
(during winter) or wear shorts (during the summer).
These simple statements go a long way towards communicating simple
steps, but the bigger challenge is in communicating a vision of a
more sustainable world to our visitors. There isn’t a report on
what this vision of the world will be (yet) and chances are there
will be more than one vision for different communities. Museums
can have a significant role in communicating this vision to the
wider public. Think about what your vision would be and consider
the role that your museum could play. This was the basis of the
Tate Modern event I help to plan and organize, where artists and
scientists together tried to imagine what a different future could
Your museums can help visitors to think of their daily lives now
and how these may be different in the future:
– how we get around
– what we eat and where our food comes from
– where and how we live, work and have fun
Different museums can provide different parts of the vision.
Technology and design museums can give insight into some of the
technical ‘stuff’ we will need; art museums can ‘paint a picture’
of what this future will look like; history museums can provide
some lessons from the past.
Inspiration–who’s doing this already?
The current Ministry of Food exhibition at London’s Imperial War
Museum, which shows how food rationing in war time Britain has some
of the same concerns of food security in a changing climate.
The Defining Sustainability exhibition at the Arizona Art Museum,
which finished earlier this year, looked at how art both past and
present has sought to define sustainability
New York’s Museum of Modern Art is launching a new exhibition which
looks at new ways of adapting and using the New York coastline with
predicted sea-level rises.
An alternative to an exhibition is hosting an event such as lecture
or debate to raise the same issues. Recently I helped Tate Modern
and the Royal Society to collaborate on a symposium which brought
together artists and scientists to Imagine Tomorrow’s World. The
Museum of Modern Art, New York, has also held a panel discussion
looking at Building the Modern Community.
If you do decide to hold an exhibition or event around climate
change and sustainability this also provides an opportunity for you
to advertise what you are doing to green your museum, as
illustrated in this press release for the new climate change
gallery at the Science Museum, London. It is important that you
are actually undertaking changes if you plan an exhibition along
these lines because no one is going to take advise from a hypocrite.
First simple steps
It may not always be feasible to create a whole exhibit but by
greening your museum you can show that to some extent the future is
already here. Create a vision of how you would want your museum to
look in a low carbon world and create a series of five year action
plans of how to get there. By offering rewards or incentives for
green behaviour you can let visitors know that you think green is
best. One simple way of doing this is offering visitors who travel
by public transport or bicycle discounted entrance fees or a free
drink in your restaurant.
Do remember that it is important that you don’t just preach to
visitors about what they should do but also show what you have done
and are doing to work towards the vision too. Make your
organisation’s sustainability strategy available through your
website and put information posters around the museum illustrating
what your vision is and what you are doing. Also provide
information on what visitors can do to reduce their impact in
visiting your museum. By showing how being green can be easy you
can hope to inspire others to join your vision, or perhaps create
one of their own.
Museums and Heritage Show, May 12 + 13, 2010, Earls Court,London
I’m curating the Greener Exhibits Theatre: Bigger Impression,
Smaller Footprint. Do you think that sustainability is a good idea,
but not sure how it fits in with your exhibit programme? Do you
think a sustainable exhibition might be more expensive to put on,
and not as good quality? Are you puzzled by what a “sustainable
exhibit” might be? Are you just beginning to tack sustainability in
your organisation, but unclear as to the next steps? Then the
Greener Exhibits Theatre is the place for you.
Museums, Sustainability and Growth: Life Worth Living, 8th – 9th
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
I’ll be giving a keynote address at this conference examining the
unique contribution museums and heritage organisations can make to
the development of sustainable communities Lord Smith of Finsbury
(Christopher), had this to say at the 2008 conference:
“The most powerful role that museums can play in the sustainability
agenda is that they can show us how we can learn from the past in
order to live with the future.” The successful 2008 Conference
explored the opportunities for heritage organisations to help
deliver the sustainability and planned growth agendas. Theu 2010
conference will examine ways in which museums can practically
engage with such issues
Social History Curators Group Annual Conference: More for Less: Big
Impacts with Small Resources
8 – 10 July 2010, Birmingham
Whatever the size of your museum, and whatever the challenges you
face, there will be something to inspire, encourage and reassure
you at this conference. I’ll be speaking on the subject of how even
a small environmental budget can be used to large effect. I’ll be
joining speakers from the Thackray Museum, the National Waterfront
Museum, the Ryedale Folk Museum, and the London Transport Museum.
Hope to see you there!